Chapter 2: Balancing
Billy Black identified me as certainly as I had him. What secrets was he now telling? Chief Swan would end all of my association with his daughter if he knew even an inkling of the truth. Us Cullens would surely be run out of town. But like his son, would Black dishonor the treaty?
He was a long-time friend of Charlie's; I had to be reasonable. At the moment, there was nothing to be done. If I didn't lose my mind until then, tomorrow I would learn the havoc he wreaked.
With great exertion, I transferred my attention to Bella. I was amazed at the things I learned today and the things I looked forward to discovering. Despite being upended earlier, thanks to Billy Black, I felt sort of optimistic.
I found Esme reading in Carlisle's study. She was alone, and I was relieved.
"Edward, I thought that was you." Esme closed her book. "How was your day, sweetheart?"
As she stood she extended her hand. I took it.
"Great!" I answered more spiritedly than I meant to.
My, it feels as if we haven't talked in weeks. I've missed you. How have you been? How's your Bella?
I lowered my head when she referred to Bella as my Bella.
Esme let go of me and stood back. "Well, things seem to be going well. That I can see."
Billy Black and Alice's deadly predictions notwithstanding, things were going well. "I missed you too." I smiled. "And Bella's… Bella is..." Enchanting, the loveliest most disarming beautiful girl, I broadcasted to myself. However, every superlative fell short. "She's fine."
Esme hooked her arm around mine and led me downstairs to the great room. "Tell me about her."
Everything I uncovered, everything I observed, I relayed to Esme. A kind of ode tripped from my mouth as I described Bella — her perceptiveness as if she could read my mind, the blush that colored her cheeks, her care and feeding of Charlie, the protectiveness she showed towards her mother, her charming clumsiness and unconscious grace… those chocolate brown eyes that artlessly discerned me…
Esme watched me like a baby taking his first steps. She was connecting what I was saying to a picture in her head. When I finally finished, we were seated on the long white sofa. Esme was the only one who could stomach me lately.
To anyone else, my siblings most particularly, what I just shared would supply an eternity of razzing. For an immortal that was a hell of a long time.
"I never knew I could... I can't believe that…" My mouth was running too far ahead for my brain to catch up. Finally, I spluttered, "How I feel about her… it's ineffable."
My mother looked at me almost fiercely. It was so unlike her that it shocked a fresh honesty in me. The silence ended when I said, "I love her."
"Love her!" Esme was ebullient. "You love her." She agreed. "I knew that this would happen for you one day."
We shared a quite minute.
"I like Bella's influence on you," my mother's eyes shined, "Now everything is complete. Everything's right."
Esme noticed my expression change. Don't be troubled. These complications will sort themselves out. You'll see.
I needed to believe that. And as I partook in my mother's confidence, I trusted in a particle of hope.
"Would you play Bella's lullaby for me? It's such a lovely song."
Happily, I obliged several times. Esme stood near the piano steeped in her own reflections. "I would very much like to meet her," she said. A smile stretched across her face.
"I would like that as well. Soon." I decided.
Our reverie broke when we heard Carlisle's return from the hospital. It was approaching nine o'clock. I kissed Esme's cheek then passed my father as he entered through the front doors. We exchanged claps on the back as we crossed. Esme was at Carlisle's side when I turned to them.
"Have a goodnight, sweetheart," she winked.
"See you tomorrow, son." Carlisle added.
As I bulleted towards Bella's house, I imagined them conferring with each other about me, about Bella, about the colossal mess I dragged everyone into. I knew Esme and Carlisle not only supported me, even with all my careless decisions and flagrant mistakes, they were my greatest sources of encouragement. They would spare nothing for my happiness. I derived equal comfort and despair in that knowledge.
Bella was asleep when I reached her bedroom window. Her back was to me as I observed her frame rise and fall in a slow rhythmical pattern. Once in her room, I staked my position in the rocking chair. The monster of my thirst rattled its cage. I ignored him.
Continuing our discussion from earlier, Bella spoke of her mother and their home in Phoenix while she slept. She also whispered my name during the night. Again, it produced waves of pleasure when I heard it. The things the low sexy timbre of Bella's voice would do to me… I purposely omitted that detail from Esme.
I guarded Bella's bed until just before sunrise. When a lip of light fanned across the horizon, I crept out through the window and addressed the morning.
Alice caught me in the garage when I returned home to change and fetch my car.
Her thoughts jumbled with giddiness. Today's the day!
"Okay, but Alice, remember, despite everything you've seen of the future, Bella doesn't know you. Please behave yourself." She bobbed away from my hand sneaking to muss her hair.
With a teasing sneer and in a singsong voice she stated, "She's going to love me. Simply love me." FYI, Jazz and Em are looking for you. Alice pretended to swing a racket when she twirled back to the house. "See you in Gym!"
As my sister faded through the backdoor, my brothers swarmed the garage from separate directions.
Without any prefacing Emmett began, "You're really going to do this?"
"Well if I don't, Alice will never leave me alone. This is hard to believe, but she wants to meet Bella even more than you want that Gulfstream." I said.
For months my brother campaigned for the purchase of said aircraft, but due to the increased visibility risk the idea was nixed.
"Wow… really?" Emmett considered my reply then remembered his point. "You know that wasn't what I was talking about."
Not the best idea, Edward. Jasper contributed silently. He then voiced, "Do you know what you're doing?"
"No." I said.
"Alice told us we must trust you, but it's dangerous." Jasper wasn't speaking of Bella's safety but my family's threat of exposure. So far my mishandling of the situation was worst than Emmett buying a whole fleet of jets.
"I know." I said
"I can't explain it. I just have to."
Nothing had changed in Jasper's mind. I would either convert Bella or kill her. There were no other outcomes. He shifted his field of vision past me to look at our home. "I suppose if it means we'll have to relocate, so be it."
Like Alice, Emmett assumed better of me, but he knew that even I wasn't sure of anything. "Edward will be careful. Wont you?"
I made no response to either of them.
Jasper aware of my growing irritation mentioned, "I've never experienced what you're suffering. I can only imagine how this must be for you." Although my brother had more than a century of vampirism over me, the temptation between one human to another was indistinguishable to him.
As Jasper finished, Emmett was reliving a memory void of remorse. "You know I have… Of course it was different." I was going to add something cynical to that but kept quiet.
Jasper, on the other hand, chose not to hold his tongue. "Just understand, being careful isn't a recommendation but a requisite."
"I know." How could I not know?
Back at Bella's home, I waited for Charlie's departure then glided into his space. Bella was out the door and in my car without any hesitation this time. My mouth turned upward.
"How did you sleep?" I said with just a little too much longing.
"Fine. How was your night?"
Bella did not bring up her run-in with Billy Black, and I did not want to sully one second by mentioning him.
My thoughts broke away to her bedroom. "Pleasant."
"Can I ask what you did?"
"No," I said. "Today is still mine." With my next installment of questions, I queried her about her mother, and her grandmother, and her friends in Arizona.
As Bella and I stepped along the walkway from the Math building to the cafeteria, I pooled my nerve and with ever-rampant curiosity, I asked her about her love-life history.
When she replied she didn't have one I was fairly astounded.
"So you never met anyone you wanted?"
"Not in Phoenix," she qualified.
I was shocked at the admission and even more stunned I was the first she ever considered that way. I was gleeful yet dismayed.
Terrible computations scribbled on the walls of my brain as we were herded in the lunch line. (Human - common sense) + (vampire * unlimited idiocy) equals one glorious disaster.
Bella and I proceeded toward our corner of the cafeteria. Across the way, my eyes glimpsed my siblings.
I mentioned offhandedly, "I should have let you drive yourself today."
"I'm leaving with Alice after lunch."
"Oh." Bella's eyes widen and blinked. Then with stoical acceptance she mumbled, "That's okay, it's not that far of a walk."
She couldn't possibly believe I would desert her. "I am not going to make you walk home. We'll go get your truck and leave it here for you."
"I don't have my key with me." There was disappointment in her voice. "I really don't mind walking."
"Your truck will be here, and the key will be in the ignition — unless you're afraid someone might steal it." I covered a snicker.
"All right." It was obvious she didn't believe me. "So where are you going?"
"Hunting." My voice just then unexpectedly started to fray. "If I'm going to be alone with you tomorrow, I'm going to take whatever precautions I can."
Once again Alice's visions invaded my head. My disposition darkened. "You can always cancel you know." I left the choice to her, since prudency eluded me. Say yes Bella and cancel on me.
She stared down at the table. "No." Then after a sigh, she looked at me. "I can't." Bella's judgment was no better than mine.
"Perhaps you're right."
Several moments of silence passed.
"What time will I see you tomorrow?" she asked, attempting to lift the ambient melancholy that settled on us.
"That depends… it's a Saturday, don't you want to sleep in?"
Her reply elicited a smile from my lips. "The same time as usual, then." And I confirmed, "Will Charlie be there?"
"No, he's fishing tomorrow."
"And if you don't come home, what will he think?" I demanded.
"I have no idea. He knows I've been meaning to do the laundry. Maybe he'll think I fell in the washer." A grin enlivened all of her features.
I couldn't appreciate a joke over something so acutely serious. We relapsed into another silence.
Bella broke it by saying, "What are you hunting tonight?"
I was dubious of her interest. "Whatever we find in the park. We aren't going far."
"Why are going with Alice?"
"Alice is the most… supportive."
"And the others?" she asked. "What are they?"
Hmmm… Let's see. Rosalie's appalled. Emmett is… entertained. Jasper's ambivalent? Carlisle is hopeful. Esme is… overjoyed…
The only reply I could furnish was, "Incredulous, for the most part."
Bella chanced a glance at my family. "They don't like me."
"That's not it," I said. "They don't understand why I can't leave you alone."
By "they" I meant my trio of siblings who remained baffled at my bizarre behavior. Only Alice sympathized with my plight or my "syndrome" as the others defined it.
"Neither do I, for that matter."
My eyes rolled into my head then I stared at her. "I told you — you don't see yourself clearly at all. You're not like anyone I've ever known. You fascinate me." Nothing could have been understated more.
"Having the advantages I do." I tapped my head to make my point. "I have a better than average grasp of human nature. People are predictable. But you… you never do what I expect. You always take me by surprise."
I was frustrated that I couldn't convey what I meant for her to understand. I thought of how Bella honored confidences and suspended judgment, something I've directly benefited from. And the way she carried herself with a maturity many people spend a lifetime never gaining. In the schemes of self-interest, Bella was refreshingly, while distressingly for me, selfless.
My hand twitched to take hers. I knew not to. Instead of her hands, I held her eyes — One glance from you disassembles me and then you put me back together — better. When I'm with you I am rooted. At the same time I feel altitude.
Could this be the moment? The words verged on my lips. I was prepared to tell all.
Bella's gaze returned to my family.
"That part is easy enough to explain." I said faltering, "But there's more… and it's not easy to put into words —"
Oh, it's quite easy. She'll be the ruin of us all! Rosalie's internal provocations took a hatchet to my thoughts. Her eyes fastened on Bella with undisguised spite. Oblivious to the lunching student body, my siblings knew that a pin had been pulled.
I retaliated with a searing reply only audible to my family. Rosalie retreated instantly. Bella was visibly shaken, and I poorly veiled my agitation. Apparently, this wasn't the moment.
The moment had passed, or more like kicked away by my sister's actions — actions, I quickly admitted were born from fears, justifiable fears.
My siblings stilled into a pose as they waited for a big blowout. It wouldn't benefit my cause to promote further problems. "I'm sorry about that. She's just worried. You see it's dangerous for more than just me if, after spending so much time with you so publicly…" I lowered my gaze.
"If?" Bella probed.
My elbows dug into the table. My hands cradled my head. "If this ends… badly." The ghastly spectacle recycled through my mind.
"And you have to leave now?"
"Yes." I resigned. "It's probably for the best."
In an attempt to lighten the mood, I said, "We still have fifteen minutes of that wretched movie left to endure in Biology — I don't think I could take any more."
Behind me, Alice's approaching steps were timed to the music of her mind.
"Alice." I acknowledged.
"Edward." She chimed.
Don't fret. This is going to be great!
"Alice, Bella — Bella, Alice." After my latest skirmish with Rose, this introduction bubbled with misgivings.
"It's nice to finally meet you." Alice flourished a smile. We're going to be the best of friends. You wait and see. She included mutely.
Although Alice's expressions were inscrutable to Bella, they weren't to me. I attempted to censure my sister. She snubbed me.
"Hi, Alice." Bella returned in a bashful mutter.
Isn't she the dearest thing! Alice fawned. And don't concern yourself with Rosalie. Emmett and Jazz will see to her.
Alice finally turned her notice to me. "Are you ready?"
I was ready but not willing to go. "Nearly, I'll meet you in the car."
Alice whisked away with Bella's eyes shadowing her. Take your time. There was a snicker in Alice's wordless reply as she disappeared out the door.
Bella rearranged herself to face me. "Should I say 'have fun,' or is that the wrong sentiment?"
"No, 'have fun' works as well as anything." I smirked.
"Have fun then."
"I'll try." I then urged, "And you try to be safe, please."
"Safe in Forks — What a challenge."
"For you it is a challenge," I stressed with mixed sarcasm and gravity. "Promise."
"I promise to try to be safe," she said. "I'll do the laundry tonight — that ought to be fraught with peril."
I counted all the possible ways someone could injure themselves with a washing machine. "Don't fall in."
"I'll do my best."
Bella mimicked my movement when I rose from the table.
"I'll see you tomorrow." She murmured flatly.
"It seems like a long time to you, doesn't it?" I would see her sooner than she would ever suspect.
"I'll be there in the morning." And tonight.
It was a feat of strength that I didn't grab her right then and there, but the lunch period would soon end, and circumstances necessitated our separation. Straddling the barrier between what I wanted and what was best, I extended my hand to stroke her cheek.
Ever so awfully I wanted to say something like, "I live for you," or "You are everything to me," or the tried and true, "I love you." But these sentiments that were meant for her ears were only spoken to myself.
I then aimed for the door to leave and screen my cowardice. I felt the bead of her gaze on my back.
Alice waited for me crossed-legged on the Volvo catapulting from the hood at my approach. First stop, Bella's house. She announced inwardly. And we took off.
In no time we arrived at Bella's home. I located the key from an eave above the door. Alice zipped passed me. She already envisioned this and found the truck's key in a mound of laundry. The laundry, which was the extent of Bella's plans tonight.
Alice developed a fondness for the pickup, snail slow as it was. I didn't need persuading when she asked to drive it. After we caravanned back to the school's lot, I scribed a note to Bella leaving it on the seat.
"Be safe." It read.
Nice touch. Alice remarked then voiced, "Let's roll!"
As the Volvo carved its way through the landscape, Bella, and the gauntlet set before me monopolized my thoughts.
Alice turned on the sound system and sang along. "Come on, Edward. You take the other harmony."
"Bella will be fine. At least in the next few hours." Alice rallied between versus. "You might as well make the most of it."
Following a look of consternation, I joined my sister in the chorus. I was less enthusiastic during the hunt.
Your preoccupation with Bella is as maddening as… Rose's obsession with herself. She next grumbled, "That's saying a lot. How did Emmett survive three days with you?!"
We both had three elk each. My efforts rating perfunctory at best. Even with feeding all out of my system, my glum demeanor endured. I hated being away from Bella; nonetheless, I was nervous about tomorrow. What did Alice mean Bella would be fine for the next few hours? And after those hours expired, then what?
I reviewed my checklist. For a start, there was Chief Swan. Knowing that Charlie was aware of Bella's plans for Seattle, well, that he knew she would be away from home was one security measure. Then there was Jessica Stanley's knowledge of our trip.
Nonetheless, they made a poor defense system. I would be alone with Bella far from the protection of family and friends, out of the safety of witnesses. The lust for her blood was an ever present fixture of our relationship.
During the drive home, Alice interpreted my concern. Edward, her thoughts penetrated my mental barricades, I believe it's going to be fine. Bella will survive Saturday. But the projection in her mind lacked resolution.
Yes, Bella would survive Saturday. My throat tightened. Even if it meant I would not.
It was little past eight when I entered Bella's room. The coda of a Chopin nocturne played softly in the background, and my surveillance went on where it left off.
Tracing the line that edge around her open mouth, my eyes then followed along the camber of her cheekbones over her moon pale skin. I thought of running a fingertip through the tassels of her lashes. I knew this face so well. I gazed upon it from many perspectives not all my own.
Bella slumbered deeply than any other night during my observation. So soundly, she didn't speak a word. She was enjoying some much needed rest, but I was disappointed I wouldn't hear my name this time.
So I contented myself with saying hers, "Bella."
I lolled her name in my mouth like a piece of candy. Every version I loved: Isabella, Miss Swan, Bells… Bella.
If someone thought or said her name directly or in passing, I sensated to it. Though, I always had a physical reaction when it came to anything connected to Bella.
I felt her name was created just for me. My secret password that opened doors to an impossible heaven.
"Bella." Others may think or say her name. But Bella belonged to me.
When she roused from what I hoped were pleasant dreams, I left her room for the woods that fringed her home.
Charlie took off for the fishing grounds a couple of hours earlier. Bella was close to comatose when he checked in on her.
"Bye Bells. See you tonight, kiddo." He said in a husky whisper.
See you tonight, kiddo. I labored over Charlie's farewell. That was the objective — Bella returned to her father alive and unharmed.
I hunkered amid the trees and listened to Bella preparing for the day. The chink of her breakfast dishes signaled that I was up, and I gently knocked on the front door.
Louder than her footsteps, Bella's heartbeat syncopated past the wood and mortar. The thought of her hot beating heart exhumed my uneasiness again.
She was struggling with the dead bolt but managed to fling the door open. Her composed appearance opposed her startled pulse.
"Good Morning." I said dryly.
She immediately began to inspect herself. "What's wrong?"
"We match." I snickered.
We both had on identical white collared shirts, cream sweaters, and dark jeans. We had the appearance of premeditated coordination. It really suited Bella. The knit fabric snugged her figure and with those form-fitting jeans…
Stop it. I woke myself from a crazy daydream. The afternoon ahead was already wrought with complications only to add another one. I spent the next second concentrating on making it to the pickup.
The clink of a key reminded me Bella arranged to drive today.
"We made a deal." she asserted. And after we climbed into the cab, she asked, "Where to?"
"Put your seatbelt on — I'm nervous already."
Bella made eyes at me, strapped herself in, and repeated her question. "Where to?"
She smelled nerve-rattlingly scrumptious I had to force myself to look out the window. "Take the one-oh-one north."
You would think a highway patrol motorcade tailed us the way Bella drove. "Were you planning to make it out of Forks before nightfall?"
"This truck is old enough to be your car's grandfather — have some respect."
We puttered along at the slowest pace past the outskirts of town. Artifice abdicated to nature as the landscape turned less civilized.
"Turn right on the one-ten," I directed. "Now we drive until the pavement ends."
"And what's there, at the pavement's end?"
"Is that a problem?"
"No." Bella mumbled showing the same interest she did in Gym.
"Don't worry, it's only five miles or so, and we're in no hurry."
Our conversation then ebbed into a wary silence.
"What are you thinking?"
"Just wondering where we're going," she said with real concern.
"It's a place I like to go when the weather is nice." Together we assessed the brightening sky.
"Charlie said it would be warm today." Though this was a casual remark, Bella was treating her bottom lip like a teething ring.
I thought of my safeguards. "And did you tell Charlie what you were up to?"
Okay…"But Jessica thinks we're going to Seattle together?"… Right?
"No, I told her you canceled on me — which is true."
I watched as the tiers of my defense system collapsed.
"No one knows you're with me?"
"That depends... I assume you told Alice?"
"That's very helpful, Bella." I acerbated.
She grew quiet again as doubt rampaged within me. "Are you so depressed by Forks that it's made you suicidal?"
"You said it might cause trouble for you… us being together publicly."
"So you're worried about the trouble it might cause me — if you don't come home?" I craned my head to her in desperation.
She merely nodded in agreement. Just like Bella to place my considerations above her own. This was utterly insane. This was foolishness. I was the one orchestrating this debacle relying far too much on my security measures and a supposed willpower that was never truly tested.
A rant of expletives gushed from my lips. I stewed for the remainder of the drive far too angry with myself to think clearly. Indecision plagued me - abort or proceed?
Hello, Edward. The monster of my thirst welcomed me as I wavered.
Bella parked where the road stopped and hopped hastily out of the truck. A bad feeling was holding me to my seat. We were behaving in opposition to what nature demanded. Bella — the prey refusing to run, and me — the predator resisting the hunt. She removed her sweater. I followed mechanically and stepped out of the cab.
I can do this.
"This way." I said limply, peeking behind me, motioning to Bella the direction of our next destination.
Alarm halted her voice, "The trail?"
"I said there was a trail at the end of the road, not that we were taking it."
I turned to her. "I won't let you get lost."
Bella didn't look comforted. By all accounts, distress ruled her expression. Had she finally gauged the danger awaiting her? A part of me prepared to terminate this foolhardy mission, but another part of me was determined to combat my monster that I could no longer ignore.
As the division between sensibility and senselessness widened within me, I defied reason; Bella must decide.
"Do you want to go home?"
"No." she said. But the trace of nervousness in her voice placed me back at a crossroad.
"I'm not a good hiker," she admitted. "You'll have to be patient."
This was what she was worried about? Of course. Bella was never without contradictions.
"I can be patient — if I make a great effort."
Indecision again marked her face that I extended another opportunity for her to back out of this. "I'll take you home."
There was no time for me to say another word.
"If you want me to hack five miles through the jungle before sundown, you'd better start leading the way." Bella huffed.
I looked to her grimly, but without further deliberation, walked into the unknown.
Bella followed close behind me. Relief dropped into her features as the hike proved less physical than she expected. She seemed to relax and so did I. My eyes roved in Bella's direction. This was unpreventable the rosier her cheeks grew from the exercise. I pretended not to notice and f obviously failing.
The path was largely clear. Now and then I helped Bella maneuver past the few obstructions we encountered on the forest floor. Her heart stammered every time I touched her. She didn't appear to be frightened, more embarrassed. My hands burned pleasurably when they contacted her skin.
As we progressed through the bramble and underbrush, I interrupted the silence with my questionnaire from the other day. This time I focused on her childhood. She described birthdays, grade school teachers, childhood pets. When she mentioned three goldfish that expired in her care, I held my sides together from laughter.
The light altered above us as we neared our last destination. "Are we there yet?" There was a hint of laughter in Bella's voice.
"Nearly." The trek had improved the awkwardness between us. A grin broke on my face. "Do you see the brightness ahead?"
She directed her focus to the aperture further on. "Um, should I?'
"Maybe it's a bit soon for your eyes." I teased.
"Time to visit the optometrist."
My smile widened.
Bella took the lead. I kept back as she picked her way past the last hedge of woods. Then in the center of the glade, I watched as she absorbed the natural spectacle before her. She angled herself to where she assumed I would be.
I wasn't there.
Bella twisted around until she found me.
Our eyes engaged.
We looked at each other like two beings meeting for the first time.
From my travels, I've enjoyed marvels of the world from the Northern Lights to the Coral Sea. But I never beheld such incomprehensible beauty until Bella turned to me in the meadow.
Bella's loveliness outmatched the dominance of the sun, and light seemed to emanate off her skin and crown her. I felt the most inadequate audience to this divinity. In those seconds, language deserted me. Though my soul sang out...
Thou art wondrous fair!
It was an angelic face. It was a ruinous face. It was a face that kept every broken hope alive within me.
Bella stepped forward, her hand outstretched. I recognized that I was not the only one being tested. Soon she would learn my secrets. Would she flee from me, from this place? Perhaps this is where I would pay my penance for the weeks I had stolen from her.
As I hid in the shadows, the breeze carried Bella's scent to me, tenderly stoking my thirst. Dandelion motes eddied around her like so many ownerless wishes. Please. I made one then.
My hand went up asking Bella to remain where she was. Then summoning my courage, I took an expansive breath and pondered what was ahead for me.
Wildflowers shocked the field with pendants of color, the air suffused with their perfume. Yet, Bella's scent proved much more powerful, much more seductive than any fragrance nature offered.
At last, after some moments trepidation, I surrendered myself to the midday sun.